By Andy | June 3, 2018 | 2 Comment
This article follows on from a series I wrote earlier in the year exploring whether student leadership in schools should be a right or a privilege:
Earlier this year I wrote about the changes we implemented to student leadership at Wells Cathedral School last year. Since then we’ve had time to step back, reflect on what had and hadn’t worked as we’d hoped this year and redesign the programme for next year.
This article therefore picks up where that one left off, and explore the model we’ve chosen to adopt for the coming student leadership cycle.
The new scheme enabled far more students to get involved in student leadership, and in some cases the people who made the most of this opportunity were not always the ones we might have expected which was great. However, others failed to really engage with the opportunity as well as we’d hoped they would, and found their time in post was over before they’d really achieved much.
We found having more than one person doing the same role, across the course of the year, was a really positive change in those areas where they worked together as a team.
We found that those students who had a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve made the most of the opportunity. These students quickly set about putting together plans for how they were going to achieve what they wanted, and were in general much more successful in their leadership.
In reviewing the overall experience with the current Head Boy & Girl and the Head of Sixth Form, we identified a number of issues with this new setup - many of which had existed when we had only 20-30 student leaders, but were exacerbated by the increased size of the team. The main issues we had identified could be categorised as:
In deciding where to go next we identified that it was essential to maintain the principle that student leadership should be an opportunity not a right or a privilege. Students who take up these roles should be those who are going to make the most of the opportunity and be committed to using it for the betterment of the school and themselves. We should therefore be providing a wide range of appropriate leadership opportunities for all those who would benefit from them.
The major structural changes we decided to implement this year in response to the review were:
However the bigger change is really more philosophical in nature and that is a shift towards ‘project based leadership’. We’ve found the most successful student leaders, and the ones who get the most from the experience are those who are involved in designing and delivering a project of some description. This might be devising a photography competition, organising a year group event or delivering a change to the way the school recycles paper.
The general job description for a student leader is as follows:
The specific duties of the various student leadership roles are intentionally vague, to provide space and scope for those who take on the role to take the role in a direction which matches their passion and interests. However in overview we would anticipate that every student leader would at some point during their tenure be involved in leading an event or activity designed to promote or support their area of leadership.
Here you can see the focus is on the delivery of a specific event/activity or project of their own design. Having just come to the end of appointing the team for the next cycle (we have incidentally also moved the student leadership year to run from the June half-term for a year to allow for a proper handover between the student leaders each year) we are now starting the implement our training programme for the this new cohort, and at the heart of this will be working with them to draw up plans for the project they want to implement - essentially their own strategic plan for the year. Obviously the school, through designated supporting staff in each area, retain some oversight of this to ensure their project is appropriate and feasible, but this process is more of an advisory role acting like an academic supervisor who will ask lots of questions and point them towards places where they can find solutions to the problems that come up. They won’t tell them what to do, nor will they step in and organise things for them.
All in there’s a lot of excitement about the new structure and roles, and I feel we are edging towards something which will be a significant and meaningful way of enabling any student to take up an opportunity to really develop their leadership skills in a meaningful way, and at the same time creates a structure through which the students can make a meaningful positive impact on school life.
The next crucial change is fully planning out the training programme for the student, which will mostly take place next term in the space available to us due to the loss of AS-levels.
For those who are interested I’ve included below the full list of roles and descriptions which were provided to the students for their consideration before they applied for their positions.